It's Like Our Own Little Soap Opera



I was a little skeptical when the story of the Pennsylvania school snapping photos of its students through the cameras in school-issued laptops first came out. I thought the story had the signs of being a bit overblown.

I stand corrected. Jesus.

The system that Lower Merion school officials used to track lost and stolen laptops wound up secretly capturing thousands of images, including photographs of students in their homes, Web sites they visited, and excerpts of their online chats, says a new motion filed in a suit against the district.

More than once, the motion asserts, the camera on Robbins' school-issued laptop took photos of Robbins as he slept in his bed. Each time, it fired the images off to network servers at the school district.

Back at district offices, the Robbins motion says, employees with access to the images marveled at the tracking software. It was like a window into "a little LMSD soap opera," a staffer is quoted as saying in an e-mail to Carol Cafiero, the administrator running the program.

"I know, I love it," she is quoted as having replied.


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  1. Prediction – Nobody in the Lower Marion School District gets prosecuted or fired over this.

    1. I don’t know. That little “I know, I love it,” from “Carol Cafiero, the administrator running the program,” could cause her problems.

      1. Yeah I guess that’s why she’s getting an indefinite paid vacation according to the article.

        1. At least she wasn’t sentenced to a rubber room.

          1. the taxpayers will be held liable. then the employees involved will sue the district too.

        2. Correction, thr paid vacation won’t be indefinite. It will cease when she becomes eligible for full pension benefits.

          1. Where can I sign up for this deal?

      2. It’s like playing God in Turbo mode!

    2. Sadly you are right. And as an added bonus the tax payers in Lower Marion will end up paying millions in civil damages over this little incident. I am sure they will promise not to do this again.

      1. I’m willing to take this bet. Heads are gonna roll if discovery is already turning up incriminating statements like this.

        Remember, this is management, not anyone protected by collective bargaining.

        1. I hope you are right. They should go to jail.

        2. Remember, this is government. They may be middle managers, but I bet you there is an SEIU membership form on each of their desks.

      2. Well, you have hit on a central problem with modern,”civilized” life – the elimination of personal responsibility. Whenever a public employee – a cop, a teacher, a counselor or whatever – does something wrong their personal liability is diminished and becomes a public liability. You and I and all tax payers are liable for the behaviors of public employees and their personal responsibility is proportionally lessened. Whenever they go over the line they are acting as our proxies.

        Imagine if you or I as private citizens beat the living crap out of another innocent citizen or worse or stole their property or denied them their basic rights. We would suffer the full consequences for these actions. But if a cop does it, or a DA or some other individual acting on behalf of society their personal responsibility is modulated even when there are sanctions taken. I haven’t expressed this well, but to me the central problem with a collectivist outlook on things is the elimination of personal responsibility for behaviors.

    3. Prediction: Somehow, rather than becoming a clear cut example of creepy privacy invasion, this whole incident will become a reality TV show. And Kate Goslin will somehow worm her way in front of the cameras.

  2. That little “I know, I love it,” from “Carol Cafiero, the administrator running the program,” could cause her problems.

    In a just, rational world, yes. In this one? I don’t know.

  3. It sounds to me like an idea Kevin Jennings probably came up with.

  4. It would be so much win if they took some naked pictures of underage high school students and they all get charged with possession of child pornography. It would be even more win if they were e-mailing the pictures to each other. Then they could get nailed for distribution, too. Oh please, if there is a God, let this happen.

    1. Not a chance.

      This is THE AUTHORITIES we are talking about, not the peasant class.

      1. Zero tolerance for thee, not for me.

    2. I say that a single image of a child even somewhat naked automatically taken by the program and saved on their server should be enough evidence to send everyone involved to jail. And of course they should be put on a sex offender list for the rest of their lives.

      1. agreed

      2. Griz,

        While revenge might be sweet, a better outcome would be if this forced them to admit in a court of law that this wasn’t really child porn.

        I’m willing to let these pieces of shit walk if it means that a legal precedent will be set that keeps DA’s from screwing with kids in the future.

  5. If she loves *this*, she should be downright ecstatic over the “soap opera” in prison.

  6. That would be truly fantastic.

    They seem to have broken federal law, the Video Voyeurism law, even if the kids were never fully unclothed. That carries a year in the slammer PER OFFENSE.

    They should all go to Leavenworth. Please, pretty please.

    1. They don’t have to be unclothed for it to be child porn. It only has to appeal to someone’s baser instincts. Imagine if some neighborhood pervert had been loaning out kids latptops and did this. He would be sitting in jail without bail right now.

  7. Robbins and his parents say they first learned of the technology on Nov. 11, when an assistant Harriton principal confronted the teen with an image collected by the tracking software.
    Robbins has said one image showed him with a handful of Mike and Ike candies – which the administrator thought were illegal pills.

    Hoe. Lee. Cow.

    1. Mike and Ikes are worse that pills! He will get diabetes and than we will all have to pay his medical bills.

    2. Depending on the school, they might be illegal because they’re teh evul candyyyyy.

    3. Let’s count the crimes here…


  8. you DOUBTED this story???
    I was wondering why the hell slashdot was talking about this long before getting mentioned here at reason. but its understandable that people who don’t live in PA would find such a story less-than believable. the state of liberty in PA is shit. I had a little hope when I heard our libertarian, Ron Paulesque republican state congressman Sam Rohrer was running for governor. unfortunately it doesn’t look good, liberty candidates and the entire libertarian party of PA need help organizing and raising funds, its a mess. Rohrer is the real deal, he introduced PA’s first medical marijuana law as well as introduced PA’s Firearms Freedom Act and a 10th Amendment Resolution. the current governor, the absolutely HORRIBLE governor Rendell said he would pass a medical marijuana law, Sam Rohrer is the only gubenatorial candidate currently running who would sign a medical marijuana law in to law. is there hope for PA? I hope so but it doesn’t look good with shit like schools spying on kids, antimmj candidates, and the corrupt judges in the juvenille court system.

    1. another thing that pisses me off is that a lot of the libertarian money bomb groups don’t list an endorsement for him or give the option to donate to his campaign, and even local tea partiers who like Rohrer aren’t doing a thing to help get him elected.

  9. Surprised that Balko, of all people, was surprised by this. Dude, it’s your reporting that makes the rest of us completely uneffingsurprised by incidents like this.

    FTA: Meanwhile, federal and county investigators are examining whether the laptop security program violated any laws.

    Sadly, I agree with JaySubD about this. Suspect that the meeting will be to find a plausible legalistic excuse to not prosecute the school employees over this.

    In an ideal world, criminal charges would have been filed first, thus saving the families the expense of paying for discovery.

    1. “Amendment 4 – Search and Seizure. Ratified 12/15/1791.

      The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

      It’s understandable that being from all the way back in 1791 they haven’t “examined” this law. They must be working in reverse chronological order.

  10. The story mentions that the school district is conducting an internal investigation of the matter. I think I can guess how that will turn out. I have somewhat higher hopes for the court system.

  11. These people are far more civilized than me. If I find out the school district is taking pictures of my kid at home without anyone’s knowledge and consent, people will get hurt.

    1. And then you will go to jail which will be really good for your kid.

      1. Me too, T. People would get hurt and then I would take my chances with a jury.

  12. I am seriously starting to think the only people who become school administrators are those with control-freak psychological problems. Look at all the “school shits on student rights” stories of the past few years: it’s never the teachers proposing such idiocy, always the administrators. Who thought strip-searching Savana Redding was necessary? Who canceled a Mississippi prom rather than let a lesbian student attend? Who punished Avery Doninger for a blog post she wrote off-campus? Who found it acceptable to spy on students in their own homes? School administrators, every damned time.

    1. At some point the number of anecdotes becomes significant. Apparently you have to be a seriously depraved moron to become a school administrator.

      1. IIRC, school administrators score even lower than teachers on the GRE.

        Of the lowest 10 spots, 9 are held by various sorts of education majors.

        1. One of my roommates in college was an English major. He decided to get his teaching certificate. One of the required courses was “Children Literature”. He came home from the first day of class laughing at how all the Ed majors in the class were complaining to the teacher that there was over 1000 pages of reading for it.

          It was literally a thousand pages of Dr. Seuss and E.B White and such. OMG, I have to get all the way through Charlotte’s Web tonight.

          1. [facepalm]

          2. A girl I dated in college was an education major. While I was taking pChem and linear algebra, she was taking “fractions” and “bulletin board art”. Seriously. At the end of it we both got an undergraduate degree from the same university. And her “fractions” class (Ok, it was “elementary mathematics”) counted as the same math credit as my linear algebra.

            In my defense, she was really hot…

            1. That’s a prefectly reasonable defense IMHO.

          3. An old college dorm mate of mine (we were randomly assigned) was an ed major.

            I remember the first time he had me proof a paper he had to turn in. I swear that every third sentence would be missing something important like a verb. It was so bad that there was literally nothing you could change without spending hours and hours trying to fix it. So I just told him it looked good to me, then waited for the inevitable accusations when he got an F. To my surprise he came back with a B-. My rationalization at the time was that he wanted to teach music to kids and he was a great musician (and he let me have a shot at all of his band’s leftovers).

          4. to paraphrase PJ O’Rourke (I dont feel like looking up the exact quote):

            You cant understand the problem with education in America until you have fucked an el-ed major.

    2. It’s just like cops: who gravitates to these positions? The people who you least want in them.

      1. It’s like corporate america that way. People who go into corporate communications tend to be stand-offish. People wo go into Human Resources hate people. HR gives them an opportunity to control them.

      2. young and dumb, truth and justice, fantasy
        fresh out of the academy
        five-time loser bust his head, make your day
        unless you’re paid off then you look away
        do you think this corruption will ever stop
        what makes a person want to be a cop
        ran a red light, storm the house and bust the guy
        do you like to see his children cry

        pick up a hooker and take her for a little ride
        but get sucked off on the side
        sworn to serve and protect, forget the killing
        badge-wearing facist villian
        pissed in the street, you bust the guy
        do you like to see his children cry

        the badge means you suck
        a child lies there dead
        as you look back, what goes through your head

        young and tough, truth and justice, fantasy
        fresh out of the academy
        five-time loser bust his head, make your day
        unless youre paid off then you look away
        he burned a flag, storm the house and bust the guy
        do you like to see his children cry
        ran a red light, take her for a little ride
        but get sucked off on the side

        the badge means you suck
        a child lies there dead
        as you look back, what goes through your head

        talk to them, you can work it out
        you better not even try it
        you make a play for his gun
        they’ll kill you say it was a riot

        whats behind the badge

    3. WTF Jen? If being a student didn’t convince you, being a teacher should have.

      Maybe I’m being too hard on you. But I was convinced in first grade – my teacher insisted on spelling my first name incorrectly even after correcting her numerous times.

      1. As a teacher, I did indeed amass a large collection of “cataclysmically stupid administrator” anecdotes, but at the time, I thought I’d just had bad luck at a bad school district. Only now, in retrospect, do I realize that for all the fuckuppery in my school’s administration, those administrators were actually BETTER than average these days. Which, if you knew them, is frankly terrifying.

        1. I am an engineer and getting close to retirement, maybe 5 more years. I have been thinking of getting a job teaching science and math after retirement. This is not encouraging.

          1. Go for it, but you should probably do so at a private school.


      2. How in the world can you misspell “Russ”? Just how freaking stupid was she?


    4. Public schools actually have fewer administrators (though, granted, they have more power over teachers). Yet most teachers’ unions defend the public school system that produces all these extra administrators, so I have little sympathy for teachers as a whole on the topic.

  13. It would be so much win if they took some naked pictures of underage high school students

    If? How could they not have?

    There’s a daily pedo-jackfest happening in front of half of those cams, and the other ones are in teenage girls’ rooms. That’s where they squeeze their boobs together.

  14. I worked at a summer camp once where most of the kids went to this school. very very affluent. I imagine a lot of somebodies will be fired, sued, etc.

    1. At least there’s that. If this happened in some inner city school in Chicago, everyone would be all “well someone has to watch these kids, because their parents sure aren’t” and nothing would happen. There are lots of great people in the schools here, but I’ve heard horror stories from teacher friends about teachers screaming at their kids that they were stupid, admins stopping and frisking kids for no reason, etc etc.

  15. What camp? Just curious.

  16. The union will fight tooth and nail to keep these slimy fucks in their jobs.

    1. The union will fight tooth and nail to keep these slimy fucks in their jobs.

      It’s the administrators, not the teachers so I don’t think your anti-teachers union comment is applicable.

      But thanks for sharing teachers union hate for no reason.

      1. Teacher’s unions are definitely worth hating. But School Administrators also have a union. It is called the American Association of School Administrators. And they lobby to ensure that it is equally impossible to fire an administrator.

      2. Teacher’s unions are definitely worth hating. But School Administrators also have a union. It is called the American Association of School Administrators. And they lobby to ensure that it is equally impossible to fire an administrator.

        1. A professional organization is not a union — no collective bargaining.

  17. “It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself–anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face…; was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime…”

    1. +10000000000

  18. Just wanted to say, this is fucking horrifying. Radley’s gotten me pretty used to this shit, but this is fucking horrifying.

    1. I think it’s even more horrifying than the story lets on. When the first story broke, I read it on the local (PA) news site,and there were many commenters claiming to be parents of students — I have not verified this, of course, but see no reason to doubt them — and they said students were REQUIRED to use the school laptops, even if the kid had one of his own. Which in effect means every student at that school was required to allow administrative pervos 24-hour webcam access into their private lives.

      1. I am not sure what is more disturbing what you just said or the fact that it is completely believable and in fact likely to be true.

      2. That’s insane. Now if one of the students had decided to put a piece of duck tape over the webcam lens – was that considered vandalism of school property?

        1. Probably.

          If I had been one of those kids and found out about the webcam, I would have placed the laptop in an outhouse, looking up through the hole.

  19. My head just asploded.

  20. Can I strangle the person who insisted on calling this Webcamgate?

    And can we please finally retire the fucking -gate suffix for any scandal du jour?

    1. Oooooh…can’t wait for stranglegate.

    2. Any attempts to do that will from here on be known as du jourgate.

  21. Would it surprise anyone to learn that Lower Merion is a liberal stronghold on the Main Line? Consistently votes for the Democrat candidate for congress.

    1. In fairness to liberals, school administrators are petty tyrants everywhere. This could have happened anywhere sadly enough.

      1. IS happening everywhere, you mean.

        Presumably most of the perpetrators aren’t dumb enough to try to discipline a kid for (not) violating a school rule AT HOME. I know school administrators are stupid, but they usually have a pretty good self-preservation instinct. I expect that in 4 out of 5 schools which have this capability, the same thing is happening.

      2. Yes, but Republicans would have been too cheap to spring other people’s money for computers, they would have spent it on Club magzine instead.

        1. Club sucks, go with High Society, Cheri, or Fox instead. Or if you’re a bit more exotic, XL Girls or Voluptuous.

          1. Hard copy? How quaint.


  22. The technology the school used for tracking and managing the laptops is called LANREV. The school seems to have chosen the “peeping tom” over the LoJack technology that LANREV sells.

    Seems to me that LoJack, which simply reports the GPS location of a stolen laptop, would have been the better choice. But hey, I don’t get payed the big bucks to be a school administrator.

    1. They chose the peeping Tom version for one or both of two reasons. They were peeping Toms and wanted to see what the kids were doing. Or some former teacher or other connected yahoo was selling the software and they wanted to line his pockets by buying the most expensive version. Or maybe both.

  23. My Own Private Truman Show.

  24. There’s another privacy issue here that I haven’t seen addressed yet.

    The school district’s latest letter to parents is available here:…..hp?id=1226

    In it, they say: “A substantial number of webcam photos have been recovered in the investigation. We have proposed a process to Judge DuBois whereby each family of a student whose image appears in any such photos will be notified and given the opportunity to view such photographs.”

    It seems to me that this only compounds the original invasion of privacy. I’m sure many of these students would prefer that hundreds of surreptitiously taken photos are not turned over to their parents.

    And what about the screen shots taken of the students’ computers? Are those going to be turned over to the parents too?

    1. Jim’s Dad: I have to admit, you know, I did the fair bit of. . . masturbating when I was a little younger. I used to call it stroking the salami, yeah, you know, pounding the old pud. . . .[pause] I never did it with baked goods, but you know your uncle Mort, he pets the one-eyed snake 5-6 times a day.

    2. Kids don’t have pricacy from parents. At least not in my parents house, and it won’t be in my house with my kids either.

      None of this it’s my room bullshit.

      1. At some point it’s good to give your child some degree of autonomy.

      2. Even if you believe that parents should keep a close eye on their kids’ activities, I would think that placing hidden cameras in your teenager’s bedroom would cross the line.

        School: Oops, sorry, we really shouldn’t have secretly taken all those pictures of you masturbating. But don’t worry, we’ll make everything right by sending them to your mom.

        Incidentally, the ACLU seems to have implicitly recognized this problem in their recent brief:…..udents.htm

        They don’t explicitly address the concern of students’ privacy vis-a-vis their own parents, but they do emphasize that the privacy interest belongs to the students themselves, and their proposed order would require consent from the student.

  25. just wanted to say that Infowars scooped Reason by a country mile on this….fuck Moynihan

    1. When you shoveled up a pile of bullshit as big as infowars, they’re bound to be something of value in it.

      1. not realy…look at the MSM…not much of value there.

    2. Actually, Karl Denninger of the Market Ticker first wrote about this in early March.

  26. “… For the reasons stated above, we find that the students who voluntarily brought the laptop computers into their bedrooms, knowing that they were equipped with web cameras, had no reasonable expectation of privacy. Furthermore, such monitoring is necessary for school administrators to assure and maintain the safe and orderly operation of the school system. Moreover, as we repeatedly have ruled, minor students do not enjoy the same full breadth and scope of otherwise constitutionally-protected rights that they will enjoy as adults. Viewed in this light, we hold that the intrusions, which admittedly might have created some small embarrassment for the individuals involved, were reasonable, minor, necessary and within the power of the school officials, and were not violative of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. …”

    1. Spot-on impersonation. Who do you suppose will author this majority opinion?

      1. That’s a Breyer opinion. There’s no doubt about it.

    2. Good impersonation, but you misidentify the issue. They wouldn’t rule on the 4th Amendment. They would be ruling on the qualified immunity of the school officials involved. But other than that, spot on.

    3. Good impersonation, but you misidentify the issue. They wouldn’t rule on the 4th Amendment. They would be ruling on the qualified immunity of the school officials involved. But other than that, spot on.

      1. …and in any event, [insert bullshit about performance of a discretionary function]…

        1. What, nothing about their new professionalism?

          1. Don’t forget to include a reference to the British suveillence state and the usual masturbatory glee of international legal norms being the new basis for American jurisprudence.

  27. Why the anger? This is a school owned laptop that the student took home on their own. If you take someone elses electronics into your home voluntarily you have to assume it has spyware.

    1. they didn’t tell anyone the thing had spyware on it and the surreptitiously filmed kids in their homes. If that doesn’t outrage you, you are hopeless.

    2. (Mental note: never borrow anything electronic from Brad.)

      1. never borrow return anything electronic from to Brad

    3. And it seems the school required the students to use them.

    4. Of course, Brad.

      Now, about your last visit to a public washroom.

      You must have expected there would be a camera placed in the washroom to monitor for improper activities.

  28. I’m really shocked by the stupidity of the people running this program.

    Did none of them think that this would come out ever?

    What would you do if you were a newly hired guy in that IT department? On your first day, the boss would show you pics and pics of teen aged kids being spied on and tell you that it was your job to monitor them. How fast would you hit the door?

    Also, how long before the IT guys disappear the assistant principal who f-ed this up?

  29. When I worked in Iraq a couple of years ago we had an IT shop. The head of the IT group was a sociopath; he made my skin crawl just looking at him. There was another guy who was the head of our security group; he was considerably less sociopathic than the IT guy and I liked him pretty well, although I was the only one.

    The IT guy spent his evenings cruising the local network and “examining” everybody’s work PC. He discovered a bunch of naughty pictures on the security guy’s PC. They were pictures of he (the security guy) and his wife doing the sorts of things that happily married people do with one another. This was, of course, a breach of protocol.

    The IT guy decided to blackmail the security guy and threatened to disclose the pics to management, demanding money to keep his mouth shut. Personally, I thought the IT guy was suicidal because the security guy was an ex Green Beret, ex cop, ex everything fucking scary.

    Management eventually found out about the whole incident because the security guy fessed up and charged the IT guy with extortion, etc. The resolution to this episode in human debauchery was that the security guy was suspended without pay for three days because he had naked pictures of he and his wife, and the IT guy was sent back to the states because he had a whole 500GB drive full of personal stuff pilfered from various PCs. This was a relatively good result because I am nearly certain the IT guy would have had a very bad accident had he remained in Iraq, which, I think, would have been the best result.

    None of this is particularly germane to this discussion, but it is an interesting war story.

    1. Sounds to me like Security Guy should have just kicked IT guy’s ass and left it at that…


    2. Why would anyone store pictures of yourself with your wife on a work computer? How do you come to the conclusion that that is a good idea?

      1. Derp-de-dum-da-teedly-tum?

        Only explanation i can come up with. Was also a great Rob Schnider movie.

  30. A line was definitely crossed when the administrators spied on those teens in their own rooms. To those of you who say teens should have no privacy, what if your work issued you a laptop, then spied on you in your home via the webcam?

  31. Have tar and feathers become too expensive? Why are we so civilized when the criminals wear short-sleeve dress shirts and clip-on ties? Parade these assistant principals and assistants to the vice principals through the streets naked as they are run out of town.

    Wake up! Why do parents take this? Schools are not concentration camps. Take control and throw off your polyester-clad oppressors.

  32. The question of “what the hell were they thinking?” comes up for whoever implemeted this software, especially when it became clear that they were getting pictures of the students sleeping, among other things.

  33. I wonder if one half naked high school kid makes the entire district management child pornographers. Screw a civil suit, I’d be looking for criminal charges.

    1. If got any nude or semi-nude pics,and with the description of how it worked I don’t see how they did not. I would with how the child porn laws work, think a criminal offense here is a foregone conclusion. Especially since the photos were taken without permission.

  34. Government employees = retarded fetuses.

  35. At some point it’s good to give your child some degree of autonomy.

    Well, i suppose it depends on whether you’re trying to raise a Person or a Prisoner.

  36. this reminds me of one of the times I hung out at Walter Reed army hospital, with my friend who got injured by an IED in Iraq. they used to have PCs with Windows but one day they started coming in to all of the rooms and putting in new macs with built in webcams. a LOT of the injured soldiers there swore that the army was turning their webcams/mics on and spied on them. I never saw it while I was there but many said they had seen the LED that indicates the camera is on when they were not using the computer and had nothing running. a lot of the guys there would hang something over the web cam, my buddy would turn his monitor around so it faced the wall. I wonder if it was really going on, I wouldn’t put it past them.

    1. ^the building I’m talking about was on base but wasn’t the hospital, it was a building that housed injured soldiers that were stationed there.

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